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The Day After
January 6 may have frightened me to my core, but it was the day after that nearly broke me
In Embracing Curiosity, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life, exploring my faith and politics with curiosity and nuance.
I remember waking up uneasy on the morning of January 6, 2020. Enough media outlets had been expressing concerns about crowds that were supposed to be gathering that day in Washington, D.C. to make any wary citizen heed the warning that the day wasn’t going to go off as smoothly as it had for elections over the past two hundred years.
But I live in America. America. While I knew we hadn’t fully gotten past a lot of our country’s sins that still plague us, I believed that democracy had to mean something. Political violence was supposed to be a thing of the past, wasn’t it?
I walked into the faculty meeting at my conservative Christian high school ready for a day of working individually with students and getting lesson planning done for the coming semester. When we were asked for prayer requests for the day, I desperately wanted to pray for a peaceful transfer of power. I wanted to speak up and say what needed to be said: Joe Biden was going to be the next President of the United States.
But I also knew that I was one of the very few in the room who had voted for Joe Biden, who had rejoiced when he won the election. I knew I had colleagues who, as faithful conservative news consumers, probably believed that the election hadn’t been legitimate. And yes, there were probably a handful who would have joined an election protest if they had been given the opportunity to do so.
So I kept my mouth shut. I pretended it was a normal day. I pretended that fear didn’t scratch the back of my neck and make me wonder what would happen in D.C. during the course of the day.
As I diligently worked in my classroom, my husband sent me regular updates on the morning’s proceedings. He sent me snippets of speeches and tweets that highlighted the tenor of the “Stop the Steal” rally. My even keeled husband who is rarely rattled by anything finally said, “Sarah, this is going to be bad.”
Again, we live in America. What could possibly happen?
He finally convinced me to turn to the news on my phone, just in time for me to watch in horror as the United States Capitol building was breached in a violent attack that stopped Constitutional proceedings to formalize who would become the next President of the United States.
In the end, five people died as a direct result of the attack, four officers committed suicide within seven months, and many more were injured, including 138 police officers. On the day of Epiphany, the day some Christians around the world celebrate Christmas and others celebrate the coming of the Wisemen, some people who declare themselves followers of Jesus acted more like Herod than the wisemen, choosing political power over spiritual healing. My heart broke.
That night, my husband and I couldn’t stop watching the television. Our then 9 and 11-year-old played in the other room, occasionally coming in and asking hard questions that we weren’t ready to answer. We didn’t want them to see but we still wanted them to know what happened. We wanted them to know it was wrong. We wanted them to remember the day that democracy in this country almost died. We eventually ordered take-out because neither of us could cook. We didn’t know what to do except hold each other and wait for Congress to reconvene, going to be way too late for two people who had to work the next day.
But I still had words and took to Facebook and Twitter in a firestorm that would probably come back to haunt me in the weeks following the attack, but I was scared, I was angry, and I felt so hopeless.
The next day, when I returned to school, I felt more alone than I had since the day after the 2016 election. I wanted to talk about the attacks with my students, many of whom were AP Language students struggling to find their political identity in an environment that silenced anything outside of a conservative “norm.” I wanted to be able to talk about what happened with friends and colleagues and process everything I had seen. I needed to talk about it with people. But it honestly didn’t feel safe because I didn’t know who to trust anymore. Who would see my fears as a betrayal of “faith and flag” and who would see it as genuine patriotism?
I’ve had two years to process the events of January 6 with my fellow citizens. I’ve had two years to read articles and watch the January 6 Committee at work. I’ve found people with whom to process the events on that day and the aftermath. But I still worry about the direction our country is headed. I still worry about those who I love who deny the severity of the situation and the true threat to liberal democracy. And I continue to pray for a return to a healthy two-party system that works to do what is best for all Americans.
Are we done learning about what happened before, during, and after the events on January 6? No, we're not. But my prayer is that we will keep digging to learn from the past and build a better future. I have to keep believing that it is possible.
For some important reading about the meaning of January 6 two years later:
For thoughts on how we can find our way out of this mess:
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